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We’re back at it for another round of building core strength! We all recognize that core strength is essential to any strong, technically sound dancer and the lower abdominals can be a particularly weak spot for any age and any level dancer to build up.

Below you’ll find three of my favorite exercises to help your students engage and connect the lower abs to the rest of their body. Each can be executed daily with multiple repetitions and modified based on level and physical capability. Remember, once a dancer understands the connection and importance of engagement to the rest of the body they will be unstoppable in terms of support and progressing with turns, balances, extensions, jumps and a whole catalogue of movement necessary to develop one’s technique safely and properly.


#1. Four count Leg Lifts: Have dancers lay on back with arms extended in the air in front of them, perpendicular to their legs. Begin with legs stretched out in front of them. Slowly lift both legs to meet the arms for four counts and then slowly lower the legs back to neutral (an inch off the floor) for four counts. Repeat ten times. Be sure dancers contract lower back into the floor and use the breath to guide the movement.

Progressions: Increase repetitions. Add ankle weights. Add light 2-3 pound dumbbells.


#2 Double Leg Circles: What is essentially a double ronde de jambé en lair while laying down, dancers should attempt this challenging position slowly and start with one leg at a time if core is not yet strong enough to attempt both legs. Laying on back, legs start straight in the air. Slowly open the legs to second and circle back up to starting position. The slower, the more effective. Be sure to not arch lower back and stay rooted in the floor. Repeat 5 times. Reverse the direction of the legs for another 5 repetitions.

Progressions: Increase repetitions. Do not allow legs to touch the floor in between each repetition.

#3 V-Sit Flutters: Have dancers start in a V-sit position. Legs extended in the air. Arms lengthened, reaching long, sitting on top of sits bone and pulling up with long necks. Hold for 8 counts. Arms change to 5th. Flutter the legs up and down for 8-16 repetitions. Repeat V-sit hold for 8 counts. Repeats flutters for 8-16 repetitions.

Progressions: Increase repetitions. Incorporate a, “scissor” series after flutters where arms open to 2nd port de bras and legs open to 2nd and close either back to neutral or to cross into 5th.

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Jessica Rizzo Stafford

Jessica Rizzo Stafford

Jessica Rizzo Stafford is a native New Yorker and graduate of NYU Steinhardt's Dance Education Master’s Program; with a PK-12 New York State Teaching Certification. Her double-concentration Master’s Degree includes PK-12 pedagogy and dance education within the higher-education discipline. She also holds a BFA in dance performance from the UMASS Amherst 5 College Dance Program where she was a Chancellor's Talent Award recipient. Jess now works extensively with children, adolescents and professionals as choreographer and teacher and conducts national and international master-classes specializing in the genres of modern, contemporary, musical theatre and choreography-composition. Jess’ national and international performance career includes works such as: The National Tour of Guys & Dolls, The European Tour of Grease, West Side Story, Cabaret, Sweet Charity, Salute to Dudley Moore at Carnegie Hall, guest-dancer with the World Famous Pontani Sisters and IMPULSE Modern Dance Company. Jess has been a faculty member for the Perichild Program & Peridance Youth Ensemble & taught contemporary and jazz at the historic New Dance Group and 92nd Street Y in NYC. She was Company Director at the historic Steffi Nossen School of Dance/Dance in Education Fund and in 2008 traveled to Uganda where she taught creative-movement to misplaced children. The experience culminated with Jess being selected as a featured instructor at the Queen's Kampala Ballet & Modern Dance School. She has conducted workshops for the cast of LA REVE at the Wynn, Las Vegas and recently taught at the 2011 IDS International Dance Teacher Conference at The Royal Ballet in London, UK. She is also on faculty for the annual Dance Teacher Web Conferences in Las Vegas, NV. Currently, Jess is a faculty member at the D'Valda & Sirico Dance & Music Centre and master teacher & adjudicator for various national and international dance competitions. Recently, she has finished her NYU Master’s thesis research on the choreographic process of technically advanced adolescent dancers and is the creator of “PROJECT C;” a choreography-composition curriculum for the private studio sector. Jess is also faculty member, contributing writer and presenter in the choreography and “how to” teaching segments on the celebrated For more info, visit her website at

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